Climate Story: Theo Robinson

Stories help people connect with one another and can move us to action. Storytelling is a core component of the Environmental Justice class at the University of Minnesota, with MNIPL’s Dr. Julia Nerbonne. This spring, Jothsna Harris, founder of Change Narrative, and Whitney Terrill had the privilege of mentoring four students as they worked on their own and community climate stories. We are excited to share their words!

On the night I graduated high school, I looked back and found that I spent more time worrying about what project I needed to complete than I did enjoying the experiences that were right in front of me. School was something that never came easy for me. When my parents noticed this they pushed me toward academic success and it allowed me to be where I am today. On the flip side, I found that I often missed out on opportunities that a typical high schooler would engage in. I spent both of my high school proms nights studying for tests that were not for another week. I often chose to spend weekends at my desk redoing essays because I felt they would not earn the A that I so desperately wanted. On that night of graduation, I realized that in all of the times I sacrificed to study, the grade on my report card didn’t give me the fulfillment I was looking for, and that understanding brought relief. 

The time I spent studying in my room had started to change who I was. As a kid, I was very outgoing and was always outside playing pickup football in the backyard or climbing trees. By the time I graduated, all of the time I spent alone in my room doing schoolwork made me feel like a shell of my former self. As I look back now on my high school years, I realized there was really only one consistent hobby that made me feel whole.

When I was growing up, I was fortunate enough to have a cabin. We would spend just about every summer weekend up north at my cabin enjoying the lake and fresh air. The actual structure on the property was very small and filled with boxelder bugs and leaks in the basement, but that didn’t matter as I spent most of my time outside. 

It was here that I discovered my love for fishing. As soon as our car was unpacked, my first order of business was to pull out the kayaks and the fishing poles from the garage. Because half of the shoreline on our lake is reservation land, our lake has little traffic and is very quiet. I always thought my fishing excursions were simply because I loved the thrill of the tension on the end of the line, but as I grew older it became less and less about that. 

I learned a lot about myself after that night of my high school graduation. Among those things, the largest realization I made was that I loved fishing because it relaxed me. If I didn’t catch one single fish, it didn’t matter. It became less about chasing that next bite. My dad would always ask me how I did when I back in from fishing. If I told him that I had a tough day he would always say, “Darn the bad luck!” but the outcome did not matter to me. Fishing was one of the first things in my life that I felt that I was doing for myself and I loved the lack of expectations that came with it. When I would sit out on the kayak, If I got tired I could stop for a while. Let the waves push me across the lake. If I saw an eagle circling above me I could take a minute to observe its magnificence. When it came to school or sports I knew there was always an expectation that I needed to focus on. If not, a teacher would yell at me or a coach would punish me. When I was fishing there was no one there to tell me what to do, no pressure to feel. This was a freedom that I realized I desperately needed in my life

That graduation night became the start of the rest of my life. I switched majors my freshman year to environmental science. It was the only AP class I ever took in high school where I actually cared about what I was learning. I had never really thought about any other major besides business because it was the major that my dad and brothers had chosen. I loved that I would be studying and hopefully one day working to protect the environment as it had done the same for me.

Fishing saved my life. Now as a college student at the University of Minnesota I choose to engage in more activities and enjoy life more. I still get frustrated and anxious over school sometimes, but so does every other college student. I know that I do not have to be perfect. I may do poorly on an assignment or test and no longer have a perfect 4.0 GPA. I still put a lot of effort into school but I am also working to balance that with taking time to enjoy life. I now find myself frequently getting in my car and going fishing at nearby lakes, or ice fishing up at my cabin with my dad and some of our family friends, as I did these past two winters. These are activities that force me to take my mind off of school, to feel my senses awake being outside, the breeze on my face helps to snap me back to realize and embrace the value I have for life. It has made me feel better about myself knowing that when I look back on my life when I graduate and when I am older, I didn’t spend it all worrying about that next project, or the next outcome, but to understand the importance of the process.